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DePaul Hoops: Talented Blue Demons Looking to Fix Early Inconsistencies

The DePaul Blue Demons have made it very clear that they are a much improved team this season but will need to fix their early inconsistencies to thrive.

The DePaul Blue Demons earned their first victory of the season on Monday night when they downed Delaware State. The 81-57 win over the Hornets was a mixed bag for Dave Leitao‘s Blue Demons.

While DePaul garnered a better result the second time around, the competition was significantly less than it was in their season-opening loss to No. 14 Notre Dame this past weekend. Both games displayed a couple truth’s that will follow the Blue Demons this season. The first truth is that this Blue Demons squad is much improved from the one that won two games in Big East play last season. The second truth is that despite the talent on this roster, inconsistency appears to be their biggest issue this season.

“We’re happy because we won, that we stretched out at the end,” Leitao said. “At different points in the game I was concerned about what we were doing and our focus, we lacked energy today, got sloppy in our focus and provided a kind of inconsistency that concerns me, especially going into Friday.” – Dave Leitao on the Blue Demons’ inconsistencies this season after Monday’s victory over Delaware State.

The Blue Demons started out slow on Saturday against Notre Dame, luckily for DePaul, so did Notre Dame. DePaul was able to hang with the Irish for most of the game before Notre Dame pulled away in the second half. Proof that DePaul is much more talented than in years past.

Devin Gage and Eli Cain provide a formidable back-court duo for DePaul, with Gage providing the spark for the Blue Demons’ offense. Eli Cain had 14 points, three assists and five rebounds on 7-16 shooting on Saturday against Notre Dame, and added 11 points and eight rebounds on Monday night. Gage scored 10 points on Saturday and another 10 points on Monday night while logging eight assists in just 22 minutes of action.

Photo: DePaul Blue Demons Athletics

While Cain and Gage have been steady and effective in the back-court, it will be the forward duo of Max Strus and Tre’Darius McCallum that will carry this Blue Demons offense as far as it can go.

After struggling in his Division I debut on Saturday, Max Strus played a more cerebral game offensively on Monday, driving the lane and limiting his three point shots. The change in focus for Strus resulted in 15 points and five rebounds. Strus shot 6-8 from the field and 1-3 from three-point range, none of which were ill-advised attempts like we saw on Saturday. Strus still sounded disappointed in his performance when asked about it in the post game press conference on Monday night, “I thought it was alright, still didn’t play that good, as good as I want to,” Strus Said. “But we got the win, that’s really all that matters.”

While Strus was disappointed in his performance on Monday night from an overall standpoint, Blue Demons Head Coach Dave Leitao is confident that his concentrated approach will pay dividends as the season progresses, “Max [Strus] showed a different version of his game today by taking the ball off of the dribble more and getting to the rim and spreading the ball around. As his game comes together you’ll see the outside game that he possesses, and the inside game that he possesses come together.”

Tre’Darius McCallum is quickly becoming the X-Factor for DePaul, leading the team in scoring on Monday night with 17 points while shooting 7-12 from the field and 3-5 from three-point land. McCallum also grabbed six rebounds on Monday night as he followed up his 14-point, six rebound performance last weekend against Notre Dame.

McCallum has been the most consistent shooter to this point and has showed excellent versatility as an inside and outside weapon for Dave Leitao moving forward.

The Blue Demons also have an exciting big-man coming off of the bench in freshman Jaylen Butz. Butz grabbed 13 rebounds in 17 minutes and added seven points on Monday night, a performance that had fellow forwards Max Strus and Tre’Darius McCallum raving about him in the post game press conference. “He was awesome.” Strus said. “He’s a great kid, he just loves to play as hard as he can, and do whatever he can to help the team win. He’s just out here to really have fun, he goes for every rebound, he’s just a dog.”

Butz’s Head Coach Dave Leitao was equally impressed in his performance, and even highlighted it as a challenge to the rest of the team to dominate the glass moving forward.

“I thought that Jaylen Butz played really, really well tonight.” Leitao said. “During that spurt in the second half he got every rebound, and that’s what he does quite naturally. If a freshman, two games into his career can do that, then we have to have a lot of guys to join the party, and that’s a challenge that we’re ready to meet.” – Dave Leitao on the performance of Jaylen Butz on Monday.

The Blue Demons will now look to prepare this week for a big challenge against the Fighting Illini of Illinois in Champaign. Tre’Darius McCallum is excited for the match-up with the Illini and the opportunity to challenge themselves once again in the early portion of the non-conference schedule.

“Being a Big 10 school, I think they’re going to put up a battle,” McCallum said. “As far as I know, I think they have size, so it’s going to be evened out on the size match-up. Going down there we have to have a clear head and just go to war.” -Tre’Darius McCallum on his mindset for the Illini game this weekend.

The Blue Demons will need to put together a full 40-minute performance on the road against the Fighting Illini, something that both Max Strus and Dave Leitao highlighted on Monday night at Wintrust Arena. Expect Jaylen Butz to play significant minutes on Friday as the Blue Demons look to control the glass throughout the game and make limiting their opponents ability to create scoring in the paint a priority this season.

DePaul guard Devin Gage left Monday night’s game after coming up limp as he drove the lane in the final five minutes of the second half. Gage had his right leg worked on during the first half of the game as well, and did not return after leaving in the second half of the game. Coach Leitao said that as of the post game press conference that he wasn’t aware of the severity of the “tweaked right ankle”, and would have an assessment this week.


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